ATLANTA (AP) — Falcons coach Dan Quinn estimates there may be about 10 NFL players who make such devastating impacts in games they must be accounted for on every play.
Two of those game-changer, Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones and Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, will be on the field Sunday when the Falcons play the Texans.
The game will reunite the stars who trained together in Phoenix before being first-round picks in the 2011 NFL draft.
Jones' 34 catches through three games lead the NFL. He is the league's first player to have at least 135 yards receiving in each of the first three games of a season. He's a major reason the Falcons (3-0) are enjoying a strong start under Quinn.
Watt is receiving more attention than ever from blockers after his 20 1/2 sacks in 2014. The Texans (1-2) did not have a sack in last week's win over Tampa Bay, ending Watt's streak of at least one in eight straight games.
Despite having "only" three sacks so far, Watt has eight quarterback hurries and eight tackles for losses. He's also a threat on offense as he showed with three rushing touchdowns last season.
"He's about as good as it gets," said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Quinn said Watt must be watched carefully because he lines up in different spots "from outside the tight end all the way to over the center."
"Really complete player," Quinn said. "I've got tons of respect for him."
Watt said he saw evidence at the pre-draft training facility that Jones is "a physical freak for a reason, because he puts in the work."
Jones said Watt "has a high, high motor."
Here are some things to watch as the Falcons face the Texans:
FREEMAN'S FOLLOW-UP: Rookie running back Tevin Coleman started the first two games for the Falcons before suffering a rib injury. Devonta Freeman, who was the projected starter before a hamstring injury forced him to miss all four preseason games, had 141 yards rushing and three touchdowns, plus 52 yards receiving, in last week's 39-28 comeback win over Dallas. Freeman is expected to start again against Houston.
FOSTER COULD RETURN: Houston running back Arian Foster could return after missing the first three games after groin surgery in August. He has been practicing this week but coach Bill O'Brien said Wednesday that they wouldn't decide if he'll play until right before game time. If he can't play, second-year player Alfred Blue will likely get his third start. Blue had a season-high 139 yards and his first touchdown of the year against Tampa Bay last week.
KICKING CHANGE: The Texans released kicker Randy Bullock on Tuesday after he missed an extra point and a field-goal attempt last Sunday. Veteran Nick Novak was signed to take his place. Bullock, who was in his third season out of Texas A&M, also missed an extra point in Week 1. His missed field-goal attempt was from 43 yards on Sunday. Novak played for San Diego the past four seasons and also played for Washington, Arizona and Kansas City. O'Brien said the decision to release Bullock was not based solely on his performance last week. "It's never about one day," O'Brien said. "We really, really, really try hard not to make knee-jerk reactions around here."
MALLETT AT THE HELM: While Jones has had five years to develop a strong chemistry with Ryan, Houston's top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, is still adjusting to quarterback Ryan Mallett, who made only his fourth career start last week. Mallett took over after Brian Hoyer was benched in the season-opening loss to Kansas City. Mallett threw for 228 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the 19-9 win over the Buccaneers.
BEASLEY MAKING MARK: Falcons first-round pick Vic Beasley Jr. has sacks in two straight games. Quinn said Beasley (6-3, 246) also is playing better against the run than some observers expected as a rookie defensive end. "He's not a 270-pound guy, but he's got real strength, especially in his lower body," Quinn said. "That part I've been really pleased with."
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